Sudan’s leader says he met Netanyahu to ‘protect national security’

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan

The Sudanese leader has said he met Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu to protect his country’s national security.

Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s meeting with Netanyahu in Uganda on Monday has been widely condemned by Palestinian groups as a “stab in the back” of their cause.

But Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council issued a statement saying the meeting was “spurred by the responsibility of the president to preserve and protect Sudanese national security and to achieve the highest interests of the Sudanese people.”

The statement said: “I underlined the principled position of the Sudan towards the Palestinian cause and the right of the Palestinian people to establish their own independent state.

“A meeting brought me yesterday together with the Israeli prime minister in Uganda. I took that step out of my responsibility on the need to work tirelessly for preserving and protecting the Sudanese national security and to achieve the highest interests of the Sudanese people.

“I would like to reiterate that the discussion and development of the relations between the Sudan and Israel remains the responsibility of the concerned institutions, in accordance with the Constitutional Documents.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

On Sudan’s support for a Palestinian state the statement added: “This position was never changed and would never change, and continues in line with the Arab Consensus and the resolutions of the Arab League.”

Analysts say the meeting could be seen as part of efforts to help remove the country from a 1993 U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” which has cut it off from financial markets and severely harmed its economy.

And al-Burhan’s efforts seem to have yielded results. In a statement on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed the meeting with Netanyahu and “thanked the Sudanese leader for his leadership in normalising ties with Israel.” In a phone conversation a day earlier, Pompeo invited al-Burhan to visit the U.S.

For Israel, the meeting came at a strategic time days after the release of President Trump’s Middle East peace plan and amid ongoing efforts to expand its influence across the Middle East and North Africa.

It was also crucial for Netanyahu, who is gearing up to contest the upcoming election while facing trial on corruption charges.

But inside Sudan, reactions to the meeting have been condemnatory.

While the cabinet said on Monday it had not been “notified or consulted” about the meeting, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) – a coalition of opposition groups that has struck a three-year power-sharing deal with the military – condemned al-Burhan’s secret encounter.

In a statement the FFC said al-Burhan’s move was “a clear violation of the country’s Constitutional Declaration,” which was signed in August last year to pave the way for civilian rule after the military overthrew al-Bashir in the face of months-long mass protests.

“Fundamental changes to a political issue of such importance, as the relationship with Israel [is], should be decided by the Sudanese people through channels that represent them,” the statement added.

The Sudanese Professional Association (SPA), which spearheaded the anti-Bashir protests, also slammed the meeting. “We affirm our complete condemnation and categorical rejection of these practices and any outcomes that resulted from the meeting,” the SPA said.

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